Finish the Year Strong: 5 Last-Minute Tips for Donor Retention

While year-end fundraising is often a time for donor acquisition, it’s still important to think about the role of donor retention in your year-end fundraising plans. Even if time seems short, here are some tips for donor retention that you can still act on.

The end of the year—those last few months, and especially those last few days—are of unparalleled importance for fundraising.

Year-end giving stats

A few numbers that drive that home:

  • 31% of annual giving happens in December;
  • 12% of giving happens in the last three days of the year; and
  • 28% of nonprofits raise between 25% and 50% of their annual funds from their year-end ask. 

I’ve unveiled the intimidating numbers, and now I have to break a tough truth. It’s simply too late to launch a full-scale end-of-year fundraising campaign. Large direct mailings, elaborate plans for Giving Tuesday, specialized approaches to every tier and type of donor—they’re simply not going to happen. That type of campaign can be hugely successful . . . and it needs to be kicked off in September at the absolute latest (and ideally in June).

There’s Still Time!

But I’m not here to be a Debbie Downer and scold you for not thinking six months ahead. It may be too late for you to go all out, but that doesn’t mean you have to watch the giving season pass you by. Your mantra in the next two months should be: something is better than nothing

Your time is limited, so prioritization is key. And since boosting your donor retention rate should be at the forefront of your efforts—your #1 priority should be: MINIMIZING YOUR LYBUNT LIST BY DECEMBER 31st. (Acronym translation: LYBUNT = Last Year but Unfortunately Not This Year, i.e., people who gave to you in 2022 but haven’t given in 2023.)

So how do you go about convincing those past givers to contribute before New Year’s Day? Start by implementing these five tips for donor retention

1. It’s Not Too Late for Direct Mail . . . Within Reason

I mentioned above that it’s too late for a direct mailing to your entire house file. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on mailing at all. Direct mail is an incredibly effective tool for inspiring giving, and a simple, eye-catching mailing to your top prospects can be fairly easy to pull off (far easier than a large-scale mailing). Again—keep it simple, send it only to your best prospects, and try to get it out by Thanksgiving. 

So how do you identify your “top prospects?” I’m so glad you asked…

2. Harness the Power of Wealth Screen Info

A donor’s number of past gifts is a great predictor of future giving (so bear that in mind!), but as you face this year-end time crunch, it’s vital to use tools like wealth data to determine a donor’s capacity for giving. By identifying past donors with greater capacity for giving, you can focus your efforts and increase your chances of receiving major gifts. This targeted approach not only maximizes your resources but also strengthens relationships with key supporters.

3. Don’t Neglect Digital

Point one was that it’s not too late for direct mail …and oh boy, is that even more true of digital outreach. Remember: you don’t just reach donors in their mailbox. You can also use powerful and persuasive messaging in their inbox (and social media). This is especially true of donors you don’t have time to contact personally. Two or three emails can prompt a donor who may just have forgotten about you to pull out their checkbook. 

Digital messaging matters—you should align it with your direct mail communications—and you shouldn’t take the relative ease of email to mean you can dash off whatever slipshod missive. Remember: the donors you’re reaching out to are among your most important givers, and you should treat them as such. 

4. Make a Plan for Giving Tuesday

November 28th is coming up quickly, but not too quickly for you to miss out on the potential for gifts. Don’t let the short timeline stress you out—just keep it simple. Don’t devote so much time to it that you neglect other donor retention strategies. November is a crucial time for implementing all of these tips. No direct mail, no elaborate graphics, no sweating the small stuff. Just a few simple emails can jog LYBUNT donors as they decide what organizations to support on Giving Tuesday.

5. Prioritize LYBNTs and SYBUNTs

I’ll stress it again: givers from 2023 and donors who’ve given Some Years but Unfortunately Not This Year should be your priority. They’ve shown their alignment with your cause, and now they may just need to be reminded of the good work you do and the impact they can have by giving. So remind them! It’s a great way to allocate your time as the end of the year inches closer. 

A great way to convince your highest priority donors to give? Special, exclusive Zoom calls. A brief call with a special guest is a great way to make your donors feel especially important and valued …and especially generous. 

Bonus Tips for Donor Retention

Those are the five big steps you should take, but I’d be remiss not to throw in a few bonus tips for donor retention and year-end giving: 

  • Channel the spirit of Thanksgiving: call your donors to thank them. Bring in your board members to contact your highest-priority donors. 
  • Data hygiene: getting serious about data hygiene helps with donation processing now and tax receipts come January. 
  • Check your pages and links: Get those custom donation pages up. Test your donation process. Check all links in emails and on social. All the outreach in the world is useless if your donors can’t actually give. 

Applying These Tips for Donor Retention in the Right Tool

Some tools, like Virtuous, make applying these tips even easier with automated donor journeys that send multiple touch-points based on donor activity. For year-end campaigns, you can set up a specific donor journey that targets LYBUNT and SYBUNT donors and sends emails, letters or postcards on demand, assign tasks to your staff to make personalized phone calls, and more.

By creating personalized, automated donor journeys, you can guarantee that no donor slips through the cracks during the busiest fundraising season of the year. You can also have the resources you need to treat every donor like a major donor and start retaining donors all year long.

Want More Tips for Donor Retention?

I’ve given you the basic tips for donor retention, but I’ve really only scratched the surface of how important these final months of the year are and how you can take advantage of them. And I don’t want to leave you to figure that out alone! 

Luckily for me and you, my colleague Devon Ironside and I, joined Virtuous for a webinar. We shared what you need to do with the limited time you have before the giving season gets going, and talked through how to bring your LYBUNT donors back into the fold.  


About the Author

Benjamin Domingue serves as a Director, helping AmPhil’s clients build and lead their development departments. His particular focus is on major gifts, planned giving, strategic planning, and transformational “non-transactional” fundraising.

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